Monday, 21 March 2011

Where next for Reading Skeptics?

...In which I try not to become Martin Bryce.

If you live in or around Berkshire, this is for you. I gave a little speech at the Reading Skeptics in the Pub social last Tuesday night, the main thrust of which I'll reproduce here.

As I blogged earlier, we now have two regular events for skeptics in Reading:

Reading Skeptics In The Pub host a different guest speaker each month at Copa. (Frequently on a Thursday but check for upcoming dates).

We also meet for relaxed banter and drinks at RISC Global CafĂ© from 7pm on the third Tuesday of each month.

I'm clearly biased but it seems both these events are terrifically successful and popular, and set to become yet more so. They provide a great opportunity to meet people of a like mind and to learn a thing or two.

Yet many of us committed to promoting skepticism know there needs to be more than just Skeptics In The Pub. There's no doubt we've added something new to Reading's social scene but really our aim is to have a more significant impact, politically and culturally.

Around and about Berkshire recently I've met lots of people who are pursuing the skeptical agenda - getting involved with national campaigns, lobbying their MPs, complaining about quacks to Trading Standards - mostly people who have been in the movement for much longer than I have. And yet their efforts appear to go almost totally unnoticed by the majority of the community.

I feel we would have greater visibility locally and a stronger political voice if we had a unifying banner and degree of coordination.

And so, to this end, I have resolved to found the Berkshire Skeptical Society, with the express aim of promoting skepticism and critical thinking within the ancient bounds of the Royal County.

As well as lending its voice to the various local, national and international campaigns that concern skeptics, this organisation should provide support and resources to groups and individuals in Berkshire who are doing their own thing to further the cause. Now we've got some good things going in Reading, I'd like to think we could give a bunk up to groups in other parts of the county. We might even (and I know this is a hard sell) organise some events somewhere other than a pub.

I don't know the form this this society should take (although I'm greatly inspired by the lovely people at the Hampshire Skeptics Society), nor what my own ongoing involvement might be, but I think such a society could perform a vital role and I will do what I can to get it off the ground.

Thank you to all who have already offered your support. I intend to organise a meeting soon with some willing volunteers to bash out details and to elect the society's officers. Watch this space.

In the meantime, if you have any ideas or suggestions then please share them below. If you have some time to spare and feel you could help in running this thing then drop us a line at readingsitp[at]gmail[dot]com. Or better yet, come and say hello at Copa on Thursday night.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Clutching at Random Straws

A little over a year ago, as I was starting to get switched on to the Skeptics In The Pub phenomenon, I looked around in vain for any skeptical groups in Berkshire. I thought about starting a local group myself but I was afraid I would not find many like minds, since none of my friends or work colleagues appeared to share my enthusiasm.

When I first met John Stumbles in September I saw I wrong to have been so pessimistic. Through his hard work with the Reading Skeptics Facebook* group, his website, leafleting and networking, John had several dozen people signed up to his mailing list, while the skeptics' meet-ups he organises at the RISC Global Cafe attracts 10-15 people every month. I realised then there was clearly sufficient demand in Reading to replicate the brilliant Skeptics In The Pub experience that I had enjoyed in Winchester and Oxford.

And last month I think we did just that. Fifty people at Copa applauded Matt Parker as the first guest speaker at Reading Skeptics In The Pub. Anyone who has seen Matt perform live or heard him on The Infinite Monkey Cage will know he is extremely funny and informative with it.

I have not yet publicly thanked everyone who helped make the event the most excellent evening of rationalism, comedy and beer that Reading has seen. Heartfelt thanks go to John for MC'ing; to Ciaran McHale, John Holden and Dave Hughes for the audiovisuals; to everybody who helped to promote it, most especially David McKnight; to Dan for arranging the inaugural Reading SitCH; to Alex and the team at Copa for being so hospitable and just fantastically cool; and of course to Matt Parker for being awesome.

While everybody had a great time and were keen to come again (at least, nobody admitted to not wanting to come again), the most encouraging thing for me was that only five or six of us had ever been to another Skeptics In The Pub event elsewhere. That means we brought SITP to 40+ new people and got them wanting more. That can't be bad.

I've got a strong suspicion the next event (March 24th) will be even better, when we welcome the brilliant Jourdemayne, blogger, skeptic and student of the macabre. I strongly advise you not to miss that.

* Sorry, I can't bring myself to hyperlink to Facebook. If you have to use that accursed thing you can search for it yourself.

Happy Birthday, Albert

Albert Einstein was born 132 years ago today, in Ulm in the then German Empire. He has been a hero of mine since I was a child and my admiration for him, as a physicist, philosopher and humanist, grows with each new quote that I read.

Apparently some religious people try to claim Einstein as one of their own, misrepresenting his views in the process. Certainly this example of quote mining to imply Einstein's supernatural belief is pretty pathetic.

(It strikes me as ironic that this feeble attempt at an appeal to authority is made in support of the supposed Ultimate Authority).

Make no mistake, Einstein's views on the existence of God are clear.
The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.
(HT to Shaun Usher, Letters of Note)

If there are arguments for the existence of God then believers must state those arguments honestly. Attempting to recruit a dead non-believer to the cause does that cause no favours.

At the end of his life Einstein reportedly refused surgery that may have saved him, saying. "I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly."